The dirty image of engineering, said to repel girls from choosing it as a career, is disappearing with the new generation of computer-literate children, a conference heard yesterday.
But women still need more confidence to enter the male-dominated worlds of science, engineering and technology according to the manager of Women into Science and Engineering, based at the Engineering Council.
Marie-No lle Barton, said: "People are starting to realise that engineering is a people's career and that it is clean. They know about computers and they realise that dust does not mix with chips. It's still hard work on the older generation, such as parents, but young people were born and bred with computers."
The council has been touring schools running science lessons for girls only. Ms Barton said that when the girls were separated from boys, who monopolise equipment and criticise them, they flourished.
Nancy Lane, a zoologist at Cambridge who chaired the British Association meeting, said that Cambridge was trying to tackle the confidence problem by launching a scheme in which female science and maths undergraduates can learn to be more self-assured.
But Ms Barton said that there is still prejudice against campaigns to persuade women to go into science. Before the conference, held to mark the third European week for Scientific and Technological Culture, she said: "Some women say that they don't want anything special. It's OK for strong women to say that but we want to attract the average as well."